Thursday 27 October 2016

Magee's Wicklow fired up to finish job started in 1991

Published 13/06/2015 | 02:30

Wicklow star Kevin O’Brien
Wicklow star Kevin O’Brien

Then, as now, no one gave Wicklow a prayer.

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Johnny Magee takes his Wicklow side to Navan tomorrow and while the odds aren't quite in the Dublin-Longford territory, the home side are as short as 1/50 to progress to a Leinster semi-final.

The talk is already of a third consecutive Meath-Dublin Leinster decider and whether the Royals have cut the gap to the market leaders.

But then Wicklow have been here before. It's 1991 and Meath have captured the imagination of the country after coming through their four-game saga with Dublin. The Leinster Council had generated more than €1m to put them in a fiscal situation that changed their horizons completely. There were so many talking points that the next game has hardly been considered.

In the Leinster quarter-final Wicklow are expected to be a stepping stone for the Royals.

Wicklow star Kevin O'Brien can't quite explain why, but they went into the game believing they could win. With all available evidence at the time, it seemed ambitious to say the least.

Meath had contested three of the previous four All-Ireland finals, winning two. Wicklow had never won a championship match at Croke Park and, on top of that, their preparation had been woeful.

"We played seven challenge games and we lost every one of them," O'Brien recalls. "But I remember it very well. We were sitting waiting on the winners of Dublin and Meath and every time they drew it pushed our game back."

Eventually Meath emerged to face Wicklow six days after the third replay. But the Garden County, who were managed by Meath native Niall Rennick at the time, suffered a further setback.

"At the time, our free-taker Robert McHugh was getting married. He had planned the whole thing around football but that was messed up when the dates kept changing and he made the decision to go on his honeymoon.

"It was a big decision for him to make. He was a good player and might have made the difference."


In the end, there was no difference. Meath and Wicklow drew in Croke Park though Bernard Flynn might have snatched it with a late point but confusion reigned.

Some insisted the referee had blown the final whistle as Flynn was lining up his shot. But as the ball sailed towards the posts the umpires at the Canal End disagreed.

One waved the score wide, the other signalled for a point. It didn't matter, the final whistle had been blown.

"Bernard would be the first to say he doesn't miss shots like that," O'Brien quips.

Afterwards, Colm O'Rourke agreed a draw was the least Wicklow deserved. After all, this was a Wicklow team backboned by the Baltinglass team that had won the club All-Ireland the previous year.

When the replay rolled around, they faced another uphill battle when Hugh Kenny was sent off in just the ninth minute. Meath ran out three-point winners.

"We felt we could win both days," O'Brien remembers. "We had a good team, plenty of big men and good players like Pat O'Byrne, Pat Baker and Mick Murtagh. We had chances on both days."

There's no sense of the same belief circulating around the county this time around. Magee took the squad to Wexford for a training weekend and reports were good.

However, the news that the losers of tomorrow's game will have to travel north to take on either Donegal or Armagh in the back door makes defeat for either side look more like a summer death sentence.

"It's a daunting task going up there," O'Brien says of the trip to Navan.

"We had a very disappointing league and some players are not available."

News broke this week that the Royals will be without five senior first-team players for the game, a considerable setback for a panel that has seen a major overhaul since Mick O'Dowd took charge.

But O'Brien counters that Wicklow are without their own leading lights.

"We don't have Leighton Glynn and Seanie Furlong, our two go-to players who can score. We'll miss them."

Rather than providing a launchpad, the enthusiasm from the Mick O'Dwyer years - when O'Brien served as a selector - seems to have waned.

Their preparation has been poor. Their last competitive outing saw them lose at home to London as they finished joint bottom of Division 4.

As with 1991, no one gives them a prayer.

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